“Antinomianism as Theological Method” by Paul Strawn

26 Apr

“The law and gospel cannot coexist. They are mutually exclusive” — Paul Strawn, on the view of contemporary Lutheran gnostic antimomianism


After reading Jim Yeago’s classic 1993 paper again this morning, I’ve decided to just post my pastor’s whole paper jumping off of Yeago right on this blog…


Antinomianism as Theological Method

Paul Strawn—Baxter, Minnesota 2017

The term antinomianism is an English derivative of the Greek ἀντί (anti “against”) + νόμος (nomos “law”). A simple definition of an antinomian is found in Mirriam-Webster: “One who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation.”[1] The word is not found in Greek literature but was apparently coined by Martin Luther (1483-1546), first appearing in his brief Against the Antinomians (1539)[2] the only work from Luther on the topic that appeared in the American Edition of Luther’s Works (1971). As such, it was probably chosen because of its brevity, and its publication towards the end of a controversy that began twelve years earlier, and which had precipitated no less than six published sets of theses drawn up by Luther, and four public disputations.[3] The importance of antinomianism for Lutheran theology can be gathered from the fact that Article V (Law and Gospel) and Article VI (Third Use of the Law) would be included in the Formula of Concord (1577) chiefly to address various aspects of it. The origin of antinomianism within Lutheranism is usually dated to 1527, when it was noticed that Johannes Agricola (1494-1546), who having studied theology in Wittenberg became the director of the Latin school in Eisleben, preaching locally as well, had begun to assert that repentance and contrition should not be a result of the preaching of the law, but of the proclamation of the Gospel.

Contrition and repentance for sin, he stated, are not so much a precondition of faith as a consequence of it. What can best induce genuine sorrow over one’s sin and a turning from it is not the preaching of the law, but the preaching of the gospel of God’s immeasurable grace in Christ. And as to the guidance for the Christian life, it is to be derived not from the Ten Commandments or other aspects of the law in the usual sense, but from the apostolic admonitions which follow from the gospel.[4]

Questioning an Old Answer

The latter assertion, that “guidance for the Christian life… is to be derived not from the Ten Commandments”—traditionally understood as the “third use” of the law—recently became a point of contention once again within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) when on the heels of the publication by Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis—the publishing arm of the LCMS—of Scott Murrays’[5]  Law, Life, and the Living God: The Third Use of the Law in Modern American Lutheranism (2002) a number of speakers at the annual Confessions Symposium at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne asserted that there actually was no third use of the law in Luther’s theology. So what had been taught in the synodical (LCMS) Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism for over a century—that there are three uses of the law (political, theological and pedagogical functioning as a curb, mirror and rule respectively) was therewith thrown into question. Kurt Marquart, who also presented a paper which would not be included in the collection of those eventually published, did not see it as so, and in a few short remarks demonstrated that Art. VI of the Formula of Concord indeed reflected Luther’s Theology. And yet in his introduction to six of the papers presented there, published in 2005,[6] seminary president Lawrence R. Rast, Jr. painted a picture that indeed seemed to be somewhat murky:

Yet, while the Formula hoped that Article VI would “explain and settle” the matter, the history of Lutheranism shows otherwise. The varieties of questions that this matter has generated are remarkable: Did Luther teach that there is a function of the law for the Christian? Did Lutheranism teach there the is a function of the law for the Christian? Should Lutheranism teach that there is a third use? Was the Formula faithful to Luther? And so on.[7]

Making Luther’s Antinomian Disputations Accessible

Being in attendance at the conference, and noting that the most important source for Luther’s thoughts on antinomianism had never been translated into English, I set about to translate and adapt the six sets of theses from Luther which were then published as Don’t Tell Me That! By Lutheran Press in Minneapolis in 2004. That work would be the topic of discussion three years later at the 20th annual Minnesota Lutheran Free Conference on October 27th, 2007 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and would be followed by the publication of Holger Sonntag’s translation of the Antinomian Disputations—for the first time in any modern language—in 2008 along with the Latin text of the Weimar edition from which they were taken,[8] as well as an English-only edition as Only the Decalogue is Eternal.[9] Concordia Pulpit Resources excerpted Don’t Tell Me That in 2009,[10] which brought further attention to the work.[11] Another effort that began as a result of the publication of the six papers from the symposia in Ft. Wayne was that of Edward A. Engelbrecht, Senior Editor for Professional and Academic Books and Bible Resources at Concordia Publishing House, which appeared in 2011 under the title Friends of the Law: Luther’s Use of the Law for the Christian Life.[12] What particularly had spurred Engelbrecht on was the assertion by Larry M. Vogel in his paper presented at Ft. Wayne “A Third Use of the Law: Is the Phrase Necessary?” (CTQ 69:192) that “Luther had no Third Use of the Law.”[13] Engelbrecht therefore set about in a treatment of over three hundred pages to demonstrate that Luther did actually teach a third use.

A Rejection of All Three Uses of the Law

So all seemed well and good. What started out in 2002 with a discussion of Murray’s books at a major Lutheran seminary as an open question, that is, the existence of the third use of the law in Lutheran theology, raising the question as to the essence and nature of antinomianism, seemed in 2011, with the appearance of Engelbrecht’s work, to be closed again. But already in 2009 an event within American Lutheranism had occurred that signaled that an even greater, and deeper discussion of antinomianism was needed. Meeting in Minneapolis, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approved the sanctioning of homosexual behavior among its leaders, clergy and members as long as it occurred within a “committed relationship.” Here was not an issue of the third use of the law, which since the ELCA does not accept the Formula of Concord, was not an issue as far as confessional conscription is concerned. And ultimately, the approval of homosexual behavior was not even an issue of the second use of the law, its theological use, that of exposing sin. What happened in Minneapolis in 2009 really raised the question as to the law of God itself, as to whether or not it plays any role at all in the life of the Christian. In fact, what happened there was not a matter of the law of God or the gospel, but ultimately the revelation of God, the question as to why in fact God reveals himself to man: Does God do so to shape or form man into his likeness? Or ultimately, to do something else?

Antinomianism as Theological Method

Already back in 1993, David S. Yeago, now Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at the North American Lutheran Seminary—the seminary of the newly formed (2010) North American Lutheran Church—had raised this question. Writing in his oft-cited article “Gnosticism, Antinomianism and Reformation Theology: Reflections on the Costs of a Construal,”[14] Yeago noted the disastrous implication of making Luther’s distinction of law and gospel into an overall epistemology (theory of knowledge) which becomes “the ultimate structuring horizon of Christian belief.”[15] In other words, instead of understanding the distinction of law and gospel as identifying when the Christian is hearing the Ten Commandments and the description therein of God’s holiness and of His ultimate will of man to “be holy as he is holy” (Lev. 19:2), over against the proclamation of the holy Christ’s fulfilling of the law, his suffering, death and resurrection, so that His holiness could be given to man, to “all who believed on His name,” (John 1:12), the law/gospel distinction is the fundamental structure of Christian theology.

The space within which all other theological concepts and categories must be placed and ordered an [sic] interrelated is itself structured by a radical irreconcilable antithesis. Law and gospel are two irreducibly opposed and incompatible words, and there is nothing behind them or beyond them which unites them except, perhaps, the inscrutable purposes of the hidden God. The antithesis of law and gospel is thus a primitive datum, which theology must simply accept as such and to which it must relate everything else on which it reflects. The antithesis of law and gospel cannot be mediated or contextualized in any way; it can only be terminated by the gospel’s negation of the law, by the victory of the one word over the other. The law is sheer oppression, the gospel sheer liberation, and this total opposition can only be ended by the negation of the law.[16]

In other words, the context of the law of God is not the creation, the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai or the Sermon on the Mount, and the context of the gospel is not the incarnation of Christ, and the recreation of man through baptism into man. Law oppresses simply “because it is an ordered demand, a requirement, a command. The law oppresses because of the kind of word it is, not because of the situation in which we encounter it.”[17] The gospel, conversely, “comes to free us from the situation defined by the law.”[18] Thus, we are not freed by the gospel from sin, death and the power of the devil—actual things existing from which we need to be freed—but we are freed by the gospel from the law, that is, freed from a demand, a requirement, a command, whatever it may be. In Yeago’s words

If it is true that the law opposes simply because of its formal character as ordered demand, then the converse would seem also to hold: anything which the formal character of ordered demand oppresses. That is to say, anything which proposes some particular ordering of our existence or calls for a determinate response from us will be perceived as being, simply as such, the oppressive law from which the gospel delivers us. And since the gospel’s liberating character is defined in terms of its antithesis to the law, it will not be our sinful abuse of the law and hostility to the commandment, and God’s wrath against us on that account, from which the gospel liberates us. Rather, the gospel will liberate us from the situation of having to hear commandment at all, from having to reckon with any word whatsoever which has the formal character of ordered demand.[19]

And even more clearly (and somewhat redundantly!):

Thus the law oppresses because it proposes a determinate ordering of our existence and calls for a specified response, and it follows that the gospel liberates because it delivers from determinate order and specified response. The law/gospel distinction thus conceived expands quite naturally into a kind of ontology of human existence, at whose heart is an antagonism, or at least an irresolvable tension, of form and freedom, of order and authenticity. Form and order imposed despair promotes self-righteousness; salvation is liberation from form and order and the law’s cruel demand for them.[20]

So here we have a concept of antinomianism that has gone far beyond being simply the question as to how and when to apply the Ten Commandments to a Christian, of whether the law should be used to work repentance in the unconverted, or whether there are two uses of the law or three. For in all such discussions what is presupposed is that the law is actually the Ten Commandments of Mt. Sinai, and the gospel something to do with the historical Jesus Christ. No. The antinomianism that Yeago is describing is simply the existential rejection of anything which would shape or mold the individual against his or her personal wants, needs or desires. This has come to include gender as that which society “imposes” upon an individual.

And we must stay with Yeago for one more point before moving on, and that is what the identifying of form, or shape or mold with a command or demand, with the law, has to do with any understanding of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. With such an understanding of the law, is not the incarnation of Jesus Christ the ultimate form of enslavement?

The logic is simple: if form is enslavement, then a God who took form in history would be an enslaving God. The liberating God must therefore be a formless God, a God at most dialectically related to any particular form, a God who is everywhere and nowhere, whose faceless elusiveness frees us from the tyranny of the particular and ordered and definitive.[21]

Yeago then goes on to describe this understanding of Christ to be that of Gnosticism which I have no doubt is probably true. But it also relieves Yeago and the NALC and ELCA and all of their partner churches from a bit of introspection, that is, of the question as to how they have arrived at this theological construct. It is not as though as a consequence of decades of group-think, a majority of theologians within the institutions of higher education of the ELCA arrived at Gnosticism of one form or another. In other words, by noting the parallels between such thinking and Gnosticism we are led off track, away from the actual source and cause of such thinking, which seems more accurately to be that of the philosophical underpinning of Gnosticism, Platonism, mediated through the Protestant theological tradition of Caspar Schwenckfeld (1490-1561), and most recently, of Karl Barth (1886-1968). In other words, Yeago needed to go back further in history to the actual source of the idea. And then realize its continuing influence within the Protestant church yet today. For what is found in the theologies of Schwenckfeld and Barth, is that they posit a rather Platonic, radically other, God, that is, a God disconnected from His creation, but who still interacts with it, directly, but not through created means. And I am guessing that it would not take too much digging to reveal that the criticism Yeago levels against an epistemology that is based on some sort of shaping, forming or molding of man, or freeing of man, is simply a derivation of the dialetic theology of Karl Barth—taught nowadays in Lutheran seminaries throughout the world.

And Within the LCMS

And it is not as though the LCMS has not dabbled with this way of portraying God’s interaction with man. Back in 1973 Concordia Publishing House published the little volume God’s No and God’s Yes: The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.  It was a condensation of C.F.W. Walther’s (1811-1887) The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel, first published in German partly in 1893 and then fully in 1897, and then in an English translation prepared by W.H.T. Dau (1864-1944) at Valparaiso University in 1929. The choice of the title of the condensed version, God’s No and God’s Yes could not have been haphazardly chosen, but most probably was used somehow to capitalize on the growing popularity of the dialectic theology of Barth, the Lutheran theologian Friedrich Gogarten (1887-1967), and Emil Brunner (1839-1966) starting to be of interest at Valparaiso University and Concordia Seminary in St. Louis at that time.  What is dialectic theology? Here is a definition of as good as any: “a form of neo-orthodox theology emphasizing the infinite tensions, paradoxes, and basic ambiguities inherent in Christian existence, and holding, against rationalism, that God is unknowable to humans except through divine grace and revelation.”[22] Of course of what exactly such “divine grace and revelation” consisted was up for debate, as Barth and Brunner’s famous exchange of 1934 demonstrated, with the question being that of how exactly God interacts with man to reveal Himself: Through history? Through Scripture? Through creation in any way? According to Barth, through creation the answer is “no.” Through God in some way, “yes.” Indeed, in his last letter to Brunner God’s relationship with mankind is described as “Yes to all”.[23] Thus entitling Walther’s thesis on the proper distinction between law and gospel, both of which are proclaimed to man through the revelation of God’s Holy Word, the Scriptures, as God’s “yes” and God’s “no” muddied the waters, presenting Walther’s classic as some sort of dialectic corrective.

But it cannot be said that it did not have its effect. For it is perhaps within the world-wide context of Protestant theology, the proper distinction of law and gospel understood even in a Waltherian fashion has indeed taken on the form of an overall epistemology driving even confessional Lutheran theology. Here the study of Walther’s classic in homiletics class at the seminary, preparing the student to preach, is juxtaposed over against the study in systematics classes of a multi-volume dogmatics textbook, like that of Francis Pieper,[24] full of obscure Latin and German terminology. The first presents twenty-five theses which become not only the basic structure of every sermon the pastor will preach, but also every Bible study he will teach and every counseling session, shut-in call and hospital visit he will make. It will also inform his decisions on pericopal systems, sermon texts, hymns, songs or worship format. The second, the dogmatics text, then only serves as the context, the historical, dogmatic and ecclesiological context in which in the first will be used. And indeed, the very usage of the content of Christian theology itself, becomes a matter of law and gospel. How so? Most obviously—but certainly not exclusively—in the compelling question as to whether or not there need be any instruction in the Christian faith like that of standard confirmation classes. Must the student attend? Must lessons be completed? Must the Small Catechism be memorized? These were not even questions years ago, but now they seem to be falling more and more under a law/gospel dialetic as in: Are we not imposing something on the students (and parents!) by insisting on learned content? Are we not insisting that Christianity have a specific shape, form or mold? And are we not, by doing so, really imposing the law of God, where the gospel should predominate? (Here we can note the title of the confirmation materials used in the ELCA for quite some time: Free to Be.[25])

No, confessional Lutheran theology has not gone so far as to embrace the idea that the incarnation of Christ was the ultimate expression of an enslaving god, and enslaving god who will force and shape and mold man against his will. But the question must be asked, every time an indifferent matter is raised within the church, whether or not the knee-jerk theological reaction has become simply that of an antinomianistic rejection of anything that may shape, form or mold? That this may in fact be happening can be determined by simply comparing the pastoral practice—even the synodical culture!—that has developed on the basis of a dialectic understanding of Walther’s Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel over against the practice, the church life, described in his newly republished Pastoral Theology.[26] There one finds not a clash between a dialectic epistemology and church dogma, but a dialectic epistemology and given pastoral practice. If the Christian life cannot take on a given shape, form or mold, how can the pastoral office? An office of the gospel? (This might also explain why no more modern pastoral theology has gained wide acceptance.)

Origins within the LCMS

I would suggest, then, that at least within the LCMS, the gradual, if almost imperceptible, adaptation of the usage of the law/gospel distinction as a foundational dialectic epistemology reveals itself ultimately in rejections of the third use of the law. How this came about practically within the synod is not too difficult to discover. Indeed, Ed Schroeder, who would become a professor of systematic and historical theology at Concordia Seminary, and then Seminex, and now is retired, took credit for it in 2004 when he posted to the world wide web:

   In the early 1950s in the Luth. Church-Missouri Synod [LCMS] Jaroslav Pelikan, young professor at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis), was recommending to us students that if we wished to escape Missouri’s “hang-up” with Verbal Inspiration of the Scriptures, we should go to Erlangen and study under Elert. Elert’s 2 volume “Morphologie des Luthertums” [literally: The Morphology of Lutheranism], was “epoch-making”–he said–with its presentation of the “Evangelischer Ansatz” [“Gospel-grounding”] for Lutheran confessional theology.

So three of us students “went to Erlangen” for the academic year 1952-53. Bob Schultz, already graduated from Concordia, became Elert’s doctoral candidate. Baepler and I were only half-way through Concordia, but had finagled scholarships to go to Germany for the year. Elert died before Schultz finished his work. He attended Elert’s funeral. Elert’s colleague, Paul Althaus, took over as his “Doktorvater.” Bob’s dissertation (written in German, of course) was a flat-out Elertian theme: “Law and Gospel in Lutheran Theology in the 19th Century.” It was published by Luthersiches Verlagshaus.

   Baepler and I were there only for the “Sommersemester” ’53. We all enrolled for Elert’s lectures and seminar. He even invited the three of us over for Kaffeeklatsch one Sunday afternoon, since he appreciated that the pioneer of the Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther, had been faithful to law/gospel Lutheranism and had even written a book by that title. At that Kaffeeklatsch Elert agreed to write an article for our Concordia Seminary student theological journal, “The Seminarian”–I can still hear him saying, “Das tue ich!”–which was then published when Dick and I returned to St. Louis. Its title: “Lutheranism and World History.” Most likely it is the one and only Elert article that first appeared in English–and probably never in German. He wrote it, of course, in German and we translated it. It was posted 6 years ago as Thursday Theology #29 in the first year of this enterprise. [If interested GO to the Crossings webpage ( and click on Thursday Theology, December 10, 1998.]

By 1957 all three of us were at Valparaiso University, and were teaching what we had learned, not only to V.U. students, but to the wider Missouri Synod. With Bob Bertram as dept. chair and Gottfried Krodel added to the staff later on, law/gospel Lutheranism became the trademark of “Valparaiso Theology.” So there were 5 of us in one place at one time. We encountered conflict within Missouri, of course, with our teaching and writing. Verbal inspiration and “Evangelischer Ansatz” were not compatible.

   This Elertian sort of Confessional Lutheranism, though hardly ever acknowledged as such, was also near the center of the eventual explosion in Missouri in 1973-74 that took place at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and then created “Concordia Seminary in Exile, a.k.a. Seminex. That is, of course, one man’s opinion. Bertram and I were then on the faculty at Concordia–and “Elertian” confessional Lutheranism, already at home there (but hardly majority opinion), got additional support.

   The fuse for the explosion was the LCMS national convention in 1973. By a 55% to 45% vote the convention declared the “faculty majority” [45 of the 50 professors at Concordia Seminary] to be “false teachers.” Three false teachings were specified. Two of the three were actually Elert’s own “heresies,” although he was never named. One heresy of the Concordia faculty was called “Gospel-reductionism.” In nickel words: grounding the Bible’s authority on the Gospel itself [ = Elert’s Evangelischer Ansatz] and not on verbal inspiration. The second heresy was on the so-called “third use of God’s law,” a constant hot potato among Lutherans ever since the 16th century. Our “false teaching” on the law’s “third use” was that we opted for Elert’s Gospel-grounded interpretation and not the one the LCMS had supposedly “always” taught.[27]

The fact that a rejection of the third use of the law, that antinomianism, was a part of formation of Seminex and the walk-out at the seminary in St. Louis is little-noted. Normally the issues involved with that event are described as those having to do with the Bible, with the doctrine of inspiration and other such matters. But also key, as David Scaer recently has noted in papers presented in Ft. Wayne, Indiana (January 2017) and Bloomington, Minnesota (April, 2017) was the rejection of the third use of the law. That this is so can be gathered from the claim noted above, but also by recent complaints within the ELCA that such antinomian ideas came into the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and the ELCA in general via the Seminex graduates who now hold positions of power and influence in that synod.[28]

Antinomian Negation of the Atonement

Of greater import to Scaer is the denial of the need for the doctrine of the atonement as can be found apparently in the writings of Oswald Bayer (University of Tübingen), Steven Paulson (Luther Seminary, St. Paul), and Timothy Wengert (Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia). But such a rejection of the atonement makes sense. In order for the law of God—if still understood as the Ten Commandments—not to accuse the Christian, ultimately, it cannot accuse Christ either. In other words, in order for the law not to play a role in the life of the Christian as traditionally understood, the crucifixion of Christ on the cross cannot be portrayed as a fulfillment of the law. So Gerhard Forde’s (1927-2005) understanding of the crucifixion of Christ has been described by Jack Kilcrease (adjunct professor at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids) :

He begins with the recognition that human beings exist under the law and the hidden God. Having God constantly impinge upon their reality, human beings cannot trust God because they recognize him as a mortal threat. In order to overcome this situation, God has sent Jesus into the world to forgive, thereby changing God’s relation to the world from one of hiddenness and law to one of love and forgiveness. This forgiveness is not brought about by the fulfillment of the law or the propitiation of god’s wrath. God as he is actualized in Jesus simply makes a unilateral decision to forgive without any fulfillment of the law. This action on God’s part is completely disruptive of the previous human situation under the law. It is an eschatological event.[29]

Kilcrease goes on to claim that Forde “is no antinomian”, for he would still seek to apply the law to the life of the Christian, if only, like Agricola, in the preaching of the gospel. But the problem, of course, with Forde (and with Bayer, Paulson and Wengert) is deeper. It is that which Yeago described above, that is, a rejection of the law—of God working through creation, even shaping and molding creation—as a fundamental epistemological assumption. Thus a “unilateral decision to forgive without any fulfillment of the law” is oddly familiar to Schwenckfeld and Barth’s idea that God chooses to act in each Christian’s existence when and where it pleases Him, like He did on the road to Damascus. Both approaches would seek to distance the creation itself from the acting of God. Indeed, God cannot ultimately do so for that would be a shaping, a molding, a directing, in other words, an application of the law.

Sure, it could be suggested that with Elert and Forde especially, that the issue is not a rejection of the law, of a radically juxtaposing the law as that of a hidden God, over against that of the gospel, that of the revealed God. But the problem is that even in such an understanding of the law of God the law and the gospel cannot co-exist. They are mutually exclusive. Where the one is, the other is not. And since that is so, where the gospel is, there can be no law—no fulfillment of the law, no pursuit of such fulfillment—but only an acceptance of thoughts and actions which a given community of Christians perceives to be acceptable. How this plays out practically can be understood by revisiting the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2009. After Timothy Wengert presented a synopsis of the paper to the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) meeting in Minneapolis in 2009, entitled “Remarks Concerning “Bound Conscience,””[30] and after much debate, the statement was adopted leading to the acceptance by the chief constitutional body of the ELCA of homosexual behavior by the clergy, and others in leadership roles in that church. According to Wengert, Martin Luther’s and Lutheran theology’s chief understanding of the Christian’s conscience has to do with the individual Christian’s view of a specific Bible passage, or a number of Bible passages. If the Christian arrives at a specific understanding of the Scriptures on a given point, and becomes conscience-bound to that interpretation, it is up to other Christians to honor the conscience of that Christian. In other words, one Christian cannot tell another that they are wrong, if the first believes that what they are doing is right. Sure, the issue is buried in the topic of conscience. But at the end of the day, it is simply a rejection of any application of the law of God in the life of the Christian.


So what ultimately is antinomianism? It is not just a rejection of the use of the law within a certain context, but it is rejection of the law understood to be given by God within any context, and thus, of God defining human life and existence. Christologically, it therefore must be a rejection of Christ fulfilling the law, and the crucifixion of Christ satisfying the demands of the law for mankind. In essence, therefore, antinomianism, as Scaer has suggested, is ultimately a rejection of God, the God of love, who through the work of Christ, would once again recreate man in such an image of love, or in other words, in His image. That such an idea is being promulgated within the Christian church, however, is understandable. For if, following the best of reason accepted today, history cannot truly be known, and the texts of history can only be a record of what was understood to have happened within history, God working in history through Jesus Christ, and the record of that working, i.e. the Bible, cease to be sources for our knowledge of God. Thus, how, can God be known? For the liberal theology of the 19th century it was through culture, the advancement of culture. World War I destroyed that idea as “Christian” societies slaughtered each other by the millions. What then? Karl Barth’s Holy Other filled that void—a God who cannot be known through created things either natural (nature/culture/government) or revealed (Scripture/church), but simply when and where and how he chooses to reveal Himself. It is assumed He exists of course, but He ultimately is to be discovered. What antinomianism in its various itterations does is affirm that this is so. Its God therefore is not—indeed it cannot be—the God who takes on definitive shape and form in nature, in history, in Jesus Christ. Rather it is the god of the ancient Greeks, of Plato, whose existence certainly can be deduced from the human experience in one form or another, but he simply can never be known.


[1], accessed on 5/11/2017.

[2] In Luther’s Works, Vol. 47, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971) 101–119.

[3] For a brief outline see Holger Sonntag, “Translator’s Preface,” in Solus Decalogus Est Aeternus: Martin Luther’s Complete Antinomian Theses and Disputations, Trans. and Ed. by Holger Sonntag (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2008), 11-14.

[4] Franklin Sherman [?], “Introduction,” Ibid., 102

[5] Senior pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas and Second Vice President of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

[6] Concordia Theological Quarterly 69 (2005). ej

[7] “The Third Use of the Law: Keeping Up to Date with an Old Issue,” Ibid., 188.

[8] See above fn. 3.

[9] Minneapolis, Lutheran Press.

[10] Vol. 19, Part 2, Series B (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House), 3-6.

[11] See’t-tell-me-that-martin-luther’s-antinomian-theses-translated-by-paul-strawn/, accessed on 5/11/2017.

[12] St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[13] Ibid. xii.

[14] Pro Ecclesia II, No. 1, 37-49.

[15] Ibid., 38.

[16] Ibid., 40.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 41.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 44.

[22] accessed on 5/11/2017.

[23] accessed on 5/11/17.

[24] Christliche Dogmatik, 4 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917–1924); English translation: Christian Dogmatics, 4 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950–1953).

[25] Gerhard Forde, James Nestingen (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1993).

[26] (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017).

[27] “Remembering Werner Elert-Fiftieth Anniversary of his Death,” Thursday Theology #336, November 18, 2004,

[28] Such claims (see seem to have flown around upon the publication of James C. Burkee’s Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 2013).

[29] “Ford’s Doctrine of the Law” CTQ 75 (2011), 163.

[30] _Conscience.pdf.

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Posted by on April 26, 2019 in Uncategorized


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